"Edwin! We are going to the A.S.K. show tomorrow," declared my elder sister. She was giddy and happy. I didn't get it. Why was a teenager excited about an 'A.S.K show'?
"Tomorrow is the day," she repeated, her voice rising with excitement. My sister was the family bookworm, while I was the walking question mark. She brought home awards ever since she picked up a book and was top of every class she ever attended.
My sister had brains and beauty. Was eloquent and spoke with conviction at most times. She was the cool kid everyone wanted to be. I was glad she was my sister and would tell everyone as she received her umpteenth prize at the school assembly, “Hey, that’s my sister.” Most would look at me funny. As I turned to my slightly worn-out shoes, angry that their eyes said they didn’t believe me, then promise myself that would not grate my heart.
Anyway! Back to the story.
I woke up early Saturday morning. We were at the dining table when Big Sis came swinging in with a tomboy outfit; her being counter-culture and all. I was neither moved nor excited by what the day had in store.
“This is the first time we are going as a family to the Agricultural Show,” she announced, breaking the silence. Dad never really spoke much, he was more of the lost in my thoughts kind of guy, and I filled the silence with my voice most times. My sister towered over the table, drawing my father in, as mother set the table for breakfast.
"Dad, I think Edwin and I can do the rounds while you and mom do something more traditional," she said.
Dad chuckled. Mom had her face set on flint.
We all got into our immaculate Datsun station wagon. Dad, Mom, Big Sis and I, and of course, my adorable little sister. The Datsun reversed into a dirt road, joined the main tarmac road, past the district hospital where my mother worked, along the row of Asian quarters houses, and into our frontier town.
"Are we there yet?"
I could feel every eye-rolling when I said that.
But I couldn’t help myself. It’s the one thing that made time bearable for a child when they are stuck waiting to arrive.
“Dad, what is that?” I asked, pointing at a billboard.
“Edwin, you know you can’t ask your father to turn and look at a roadside banner when he is driving,” confirmed my mother.
“What is it then, mom?”
“It’s a Kimbo ad,”
“Like the one on television? Where people rush home to eat Chapatis?”
“Yes, in fact, that is the same advertisement on the board,” added my sister.
The Datsun went past the colonial shop-where ranchers came to buy monthly supplies.
“Dad, can you buy me those rare chocolates found in that shop,” I mentioned pointing to the colonial shop with the signage, ‘Settlers Store Ltd Supermarket.’
I made many other demands in quick succession, and I believe in keeping their sanity, everyone in the car ignored me. The car drove past a bridge and then turned to a large open field to the right side of the road. The field had a few cars parked. A telltale sign of the decade we were in. Few people owned a car. My dad drove up beside a couple of them huddled in a corner. He stopped the engine, and we got out.
There were cars spread out all over the open space, and a few more were driving in as we walked in the direction of the crowd. There was a large gate with 'Mt Kenya Nanyuki Show' signage written with monstrous letters. The crowd thinned into orderly lines, and we joined at the rear.
Most of the people on the line were kids, with one or both parents. Many had their faces shiny, with the ‘wonder jelly’, or what marketers called Vaseline Pure Petroleum Jelly. I remember it as the wonder jelly that could shine lips, give leather shoes a sheen, heal wounds, and grease creaky wheels. Our mothers would apply Vaseline liberally on our cheeks and any part of our body exposed to the elements.
"All in line," shouted a woman at the front.
We stepped forward, and father bought three tickets. My younger adorable sister and I were not required to buy tickets. The same thing happens when your imaginary friend joins you in a pub to drink imaginary beer, and you don’t have to pay.
"Dad, I will go with Edwin," repeated my sister.
I turned to her with a puzzled look, again. What was she up to. Usually, I would be the last person she wanted to hang out with.
I ran over to her side and nodded my head. This offer was too good to be true, so I needed to milk it while It lasted.
"Yes, Dad, we will be fine," I said, nodding my head profusely.
My father smiled and handed my sister some money.
"Go and have fun," he added as he waved us off.
I was overjoyed because my adorable younger sister didn’t come along. That would have been hard labour for me, dragging her along, while trying to keep up with a cool Big Sis who was in a mad rush.
I didn't know why I was running to keep up until we were out of sight. We turned a corner, and loud music kept getting closer. I knew there, and then, I had been bamboozled, deceived and duped.
"I am too young for this," I told myself then swallowed hard.
"I will tell Dad if you take me to that place," I said with my hands folded.
"Which place?" Asked my sister, standing outside the tent.
Inside the tent, Gloria Estefan’s Dr Beat was playing:
I've got this fever
That I can't control
That I can't control.
Music makes me move my body
Makes me move my soul
Makes me move my soul.
You better give me something
'Cause I'm burning up
To enter that tent was to join teenagers in a jam session. Them swaying to the music like their lives depended on it.
"Cool down bro I am just saying hi to someone here, and then we will be on our way. Ok?"
"Ok!" I responded half-heartedly. Feeling my feet involuntarily moving to the music.
We scampered into a half-dark tent, with a disco globe at the centre and young people gyrating, sweating and moving in tune to the disco music.
“Here sip on this,”
I was handed a cold Coke bottle. My first bribe of the day. The culprit was a tall boy, with acne ravaging his face and leaving a rift valley terrain in its wake. Besides that, he had struck a conversation with me a couple of times in school. My main interest was the drink. In our house, we only drank soda on special occasions. I could count those occasions in one hand.
I grabbed the bottle with no questions and looked away. Happy when the boy’s attention turned to my sister, and they went off to dance. I nursed the bottle for a few slow minutes before my sister walked up and grabbed my hand and dragged me along as we stormed out. I could tell there had been an argument. I was happy. Now we could enjoy the ‘A.S.K. show’. There was so much to do, and see I imagined.
I pulled my hand out of her grip and folded my arms in protest.
"I want to visit every place in this showground, and you will make it happen, or I will tell dad!"
"Come on, Edwin, don't be unfair. What will you tell dad? That you saw me with my classmates at the showground?
"No. I will…"
“No! Edwin,” Big Sis said, raising her index finger. “You will say nothing because we will have a good time today. Come let me take you around,”
Smugly I followed her. The war had been won.
Or had it?
We passed through several tents with-you guessed it-agricultural materials. Then walked into a dimly lit tent, and I immediately jumped back, my face distorted in fear. There was a man’s head on a plate. I held my mouth to hold back a scream. I believe my ghost ran out of the room and left my body clinging to my sister and two other people besides me. The two people behaved like shoppers walking the aisles in a supermarket. I was going to raise the alarm when I turned to my sister and saw her face. She was suppressing something, and it clearly was not fear. I turned to the man’s head on the plate again and walked towards it. There was blood on the table, or was it? The man’s head seemed to be too well placed on the plate. I stepped back and sneered, having just understood the ruse. The head opened its eyes and started speaking. I laughed nervously, as we joined the two aisle walkers, in seeing other odd things placed on display, like snakes and bats in bottles.
“You want some more?” Asked my sister as we got outside, and I adjusted my eyes. I nodded, having forgotten everything before the head on the table. We went to meet the clowns and their adjustable ballons. When that bored me, we visited the acrobats who got the crowd clapping and gasping as they did feats impossible to understand.
Bribe number two was ice cream, she understood how to pile on experiences. There was a lot to eat. I also saw monstrosities of animals—pigs that looked like hippos, and cows that towered like rhinos.
But the thing I remembered that stayed with me for many years was this muscular guy, who was run over by a land rover. After the car had gone over his chest. He got up, thumped his chest, to the wild celebration of the crowd. I, for one, started believing in superheroes from that day on. In came He-Man and Spider-Man out went fear, somewhat.
I also remember being placed on the back of a camel by my father. The thing stunk and had terrible table manners, chewing cud even while on the job. But the ride was better than the merry-go-rounds and other amusements.
By the time we got home that night, I was too tired to speak coherently. In a mumble, I said, “ I can’t wait to go to the show next year.” As my head hit the pillow, and I was fast asleep.